Teen Depression Ages 13-18

| Age 13-18, Parent Resources

What is Teen Depression?

Adolescent depression is a disorder occurring during the teenage years marked by persistent sadness, discouragement, loss of self-worth, and loss of interest in usual activities. It can be a temporary response to various situational stressors including normal maturation, hormonal changes, and independence conflicts with parents, school and social stressors, and the stress associated with them. It may also be a reaction to a disturbing event, such as the death of a friend or relative, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or failure at school. Adolescents, who have low self-esteem, are highly self-critical, and feel little sense of control over negative events, are particularly vulnerable to depression when they experience stressful events. True depression in teens is often difficult to diagnose because normal adolescent behavior is marked by mood swings, with alternating periods of feeling ‘the world is a great place’ and ‘life sucks.’ These moods may alternate over a period of hours or days. Persistent depressed mood, faltering school performance, failing relations with family and friends, substance abuse, and other negative behaviors may indicate a serious depressive episode. These symptoms may be easy to recognize, but depression in adolescents often manifests very differently than these classic symptoms. Excessive sleeping, change in eating habits, even criminal behavior (like shoplifting) may be signs of depression. Another common symptom of adolescent depression is an obsession with death, which may take the form either of suicidal thoughts or of fears about death and dying.


  • depressed or irritable mood
  • temper, agitation
  • loss of interest in activities, apathy
  • reduced pleasure in daily activities
  • inability to enjoy activities which used to be sources of pleasure
  • change in appetite, usually a loss of appetite but sometimes an increase
  • change in weight (unintentional weight loss or unintentional weight gain)
  • persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions
  • memory loss (amnesia) episodes
  • preoccupation with self
  • feelings of worthlessness, sadness, or self-hatred
  • excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt
  • acting-out behavior (missing curfews, unusual defiance)
  • thoughts about suicide or obsessive fears or worries about death
  • plans to commit suicide or actual suicide attempt
  • excessively irresponsible behavior pattern

If these symptoms persist for at least two weeks and cause significant distress or difficulty functioning, treatment should be sought.


Treatment options for adolescents with depression are similar to those for depressed adults. These include psychotherapy and antidepressant medications, which usually are administered on a temporary basis. However, it is important to see a psychiatrist who is familiar with adolescent side effects from antidepressant medication. Family therapy may be helpful if family conflict is contributing to the depression. Support from family or teachers to help with school problems may also be needed. Occasionally, hospitalization in a psychiatric unit may be required for individuals with severe depression, or if they are at risk of suicide. Because of the behavior problems that often co-exist with adolescent depression, many parents are tempted to send their child to a “boot camp”, “wilderness program”, or “emotional growth school.” These programs often use non-medical staff, confrontational therapies, and harsh punishments. There is no scientific evidence to support such programs. In fact, there is a growing body of research which suggests that they can actually harm sensitive teens with depression. Depressed teens who act out may also become involved with the criminal justice system. Parents are often advised not to intervene, but to “let them experience consequences.” Unfortunately, this can also harm teens through exposure to more deviant peers and reduction in educational opportunities. A better solution is to get the best possible legal advice and search for treatment on your own, which gives parents more control over techniques used and options. Though a large percentage of teens in the criminal justice system have mental disorders like depression, few juvenile prisons, “boot camps” or other “alternative to prison” programs provide adequate treatment. Depressive episodes usually respond to treatment, and early and comprehensive treatment of depression in adolescence may prevent further episodes. However, about half of seriously depressed teens are likely to have continued problems with depression as adults.


Teenage suicide is associated with depression as well as many other factors. Depression frequently interferes with school performance and interpersonal relationships. Teens with depression often have other psychiatric problems, such as anxiety disorders. Depression is also commonly associated with violence and reckless behavior. Drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse frequently coexist with depression. Adolescents with additional psychiatric problems usually require longer and more intensive treatment.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if one or more warning signs of potential suicide are present. Although there is no single type of suicidal person, be alert to the following signs:

  • withdrawal, with urge to be alone, isolation
  • moodiness
  • personality change
  • threat of suicide
  • giving most cherished possessions to others


Brief periods of depression are common in most adolescents. However, supportive interpersonal relationships and healthy coping skills can help prevent such periods from leading to more severe depressive symptoms. Open communication with your teen can help identify depression earlier. Counseling utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy (which teaches depressed individuals how to change negative thoughts and recognize them as symptoms) may help teens deal with periods of low mood. Cognitive behavioral therapy, not the truth about their world, is the most effective non-medication treatment for depression. Be sure that counselors or psychologists sought are trained in this method. For adolescents with a strong family history of depression, or with multiple risk factors, episodes of depression may not be preventable. For these teens, early identification and prompt and comprehensive treatment of depression may prevent or postpone further episodes.

(This information is made available by MamaTeres’s safe haven)

For further information on Teen Depression, please see the following resources: